Actors and singers have long used their celebrity as a way to get out the vote. In the religious community, pastors have used their pulpits to preach the importance of voting.
This year is no different. With just days to go before the general election, area pastors, a number of them African Americans with large congregations, are using their sermons to drive home the message that voting matters.
"There has got to be a Christian voice during this election," a charged-up Betty Peebles, senior pastor of Jericho City of Praise in Landover, told her congregation last week.
Ministers nationwide have carved out extra space in their worship services and schedules to encourage Christians to get to the polls Tuesday.
Last Thursday, Peebles's church hosted the opening service for the "America for Jesus" rally, a 12-hour event on the Mall in the District that brought together nationally known TV preachers, gospel singers and thousands of churchgoers of all races.
John Gimenez, pastor of the Rock Church International in Virginia Beach, organized the rally, which he described as a nonpartisan event. The rally took place one week after another religious gathering on the Mall that featured such conservatives as James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, a nonprofit Christian group; Alan Keyes, a former Republican presidential candidate and Maryland resident who is seeking a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois; Dennis Rainey, co-founder of the Christian radio show "FamilyLife Today"; and Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham.
Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Lanham and a Bush supporter, spoke at both events.
"The big picture is that Christians should have some stake in America," Jackson said during an interview after the service at Jericho City of Praise. "We want to see a moral revival and the restoration of morality in this country, and we want to make sure that our voices are heard spiritually and politically."
A recent poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, an African American think tank, found that President Bush is getting double the support he got from blacks four years ago, and that the increase, from 9 percent to 18 percent, is partly due to blacks who identify themselves as Christian conservatives.
Still, the Rev. Jesse Jackson questioned the sincerity of the evangelicals who are reaching out to blacks and urged church leaders to remembeE history.
"The white evangelicals never stood to end legal segregation," Jackson said. "They never stood to fight for civil rights. They have consistently been anti-civil rights, antilabor," Jackson said in a telephone interview.
University of Maryland political science professor Ron Walters also said he is leery about this new relationship between African American ministers and evangelicals.
"This is an effort to neutralize the black church in this process," Walters said in an interview, "and some of these ministers are falling for it."
Peebles said, "We need to go back to our roots. We were founded on the principles of Christianity, and without God any nation is going to fall."